A Lightbulb Goes Off for IdeaMarket


IdeaMarket, one of the first companies to emerge from Bill Gross’ Idealab Internet incubator, is all but dead, and is now moving--sans employees --from its base in Austin, Texas, into Idealab’s Pasadena headquarters for a major retrenching.

Started with much fanfare in January, IdeaMarket intended to build a Web-based database of millions of bits of information--business reports, recipes, oral histories, horoscopes--to be sold on a pay-per-view basis.

Well-known technology columnist Jim Seymour hired on as chief executive and became an Idealab investor, and respected New York Times Internet columnist Peter H. Lewis joined as vice president and editorial director.


But the company was mismanaged from the start, former employees now say, with precious start-up capital spent on lavish but unfilled office space instead of on essentials such as computers and company stationery.

“I characterize my experience there as high-tech hell,” said Bill Crawford, an IdeaMarket acquisitions editor who quit in May.

Seymour and Gross say the company’s problems stem from an overambitious promise to provide information in more than two dozen categories. After initial tests, they decided in June to narrow the focus to two categories: business and computers. Lewis, displeased with the company’s new course and frustrated by “deep philosophical differences” with Seymour, left on June 30. At least nine other people quit or were laid off.

Last week, Seymour announced IdeaMarket’s move to Pasadena, leaving the company’s remaining four employees behind. Seymour will take over from Gross as chairman, removing himself from the company’s daily operations, and Gross will step in as interim chief executive until a permanent replacement can be found.

Gross is currently negotiating with Lewis to join one of the other 23 Idealab companies. Says Lewis now of IdeaMarket: “I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks pay-per-view [intellectual property] won’t be successful. The question is timing. It’s possible we were ahead of our time.”